Traveling with an infant

Note:  I wrote this back in the summer after our first experience flying with the baby.  Not sure why I never published it, but here it is.

I was very nervous about traveling with Abby.  When we left Ohio she was not quite 7 weeks old – which is very little to be going on such a big adventure.  Three flights, a 24 hour delay, and two days later, we made it home and she didn’t show the slightest bit of stress.  Adjusting her to local time was an entirely different issue.

I spent a lot of time online reading up on suggestions and tips for traveling with a baby.  I found it very helpful, and I think our preparation helped keep me calm (okay, by the end nothing about me was calm, but that wasn’t because of the baby) and made the trip much easier.

My packing list for the baby:

1. Stroller.  We have the City Mini GT.  It’s a bigger stroller, but we love it and felt it was necessary for the uneven pavement and roads here in Kosovo.  Many people recommend taking an umbrella stroller for airport travel, but Abby is still too little for one of those.  It was really helpful for moving through the airport, especially because we had Abby’s infant car seat with us and that beast is heavy.   We also have a Stroller Bag – so just before we boarded each plane, we collapsed the stroller and gate checked it.  (As you may recall, that didn’t turn out so well for us on Turkish Airlines, but I digress).

2. Car Seat and Base.  Our car seat is the Britax B-Safe.  Abby had her own ticket for each flight (per the travel orders from JR’s work) so we knew we would be taking her car seat on the plane with us.   However, I did not know what to do with the base of the car seat.  We had used it constantly in Ohio, because we were always on the go, in and out of the car.  I didn’t want to buy a separate base and ship it to Kosovo becasue those things are pricey.  I also didn’t want to try to pack it in one of our bags.  We had 5 checked bags, our maximum allowance, and each bag was stuffed to the brim and weighed 49 pounds (50lbs is the max).   So, when we boarded the plane, I had Abby in my K’Tan and we carried the car seat attached to the base – so basically to anyone else, it looked like just one piece.  We quickly realized it would be next to impossible to get the seat belt around the car seat when it was attached, so we took the base off and placed in an overhead bin.  I’ve heard that you can gate check the base without charge, but I wasn’t sure if that would work.  Ideally, we won’t have to fly with the base again because it was just one more item to carry around, but we had to get it home with us somehow.

3.  Baby carrier.  We have two carriers – the K’Tan and the Beco Gemini.  I love them both for different reasons, and the K’Tan is the one we used while traveling.  It’s similar to a Moby Wrap but far less complicated.  There were several advantages to wearing Abby through the airport.  I did not have to take her out or do anything special when we went through security, but they did have me use a metal detector instead of the body scanner.  Oh, and they ran a wand over my hands and checked the results of that, but no one touched the baby, and I didn’t have to fuss with getting her in and out of her stroller.  And of course, it allowed my hands to be free to carry other things, and eat when we stopped.

4.  Boppy pillow.  I was a little torn on bringing this.  On the one hand, it was just one more thing to carry, and we seriously had SO.MUCH.STUFF.  On the other hand, it gives your arms a nice break when you are holding the baby or feeding her.  We didn’t know how much time Abby would spend in her car seat and how often she would want to be held.  Luckily for us, she really did sleep most of the time in her seat.

5.  Diaper Bags.  Yes, that’s plural, because we have a bit of a war on the homefront over who has the better diaper bag.  I used mine primarily as a purse and also I had back ups in it, and we used JR’s for all the necessities.   We packed about 20 diapers (which at first seemed like overkill, but when we were stuck in DC and doing a count of our remaining diapers, unsure of when we’d actually arrive in Kosovo, I wound up going on a last minute diaper run just to be safe).   We also had several bibs, burp cloths, multiple changes of clothes for Abby, and a change of clothes for each of us (that was in case she spit up or pooed on us, but turned out to be handy when we had to overnight in DC anyway).   Extra ziplock baggies for dirty clothes, and small trash bags for dirty diapers.  We also had a few small toys. Oh and we packed at least ten pacificers, just in case we lost 9 of them.

We debated on the best way to take Abby’s formula and bottles with us.  We bought Similac Ready-to-Feed bottles.  They are a bit pricey, but it was very convenient (although each pack of bottles only comes with one nipple and they don’t tell you that on the box.  Luckily we had extras at home from the hospital).   We also had a few extra bottles and formula on hand just in case, but this meant we didn’t have to measure out and mix bottles on the flights.   One security guard commented to me that the bottles were just under the size allowable, but honestly I thought you were permitted to take any amount of formula/food for the baby, so his comment surprised me.

I also carried the most recent medical records for me and Abby, as a precaution.

Misc. Tips

– It’s a good idea to feed the baby or give the baby a pacififer during take off and landing to help their ears.

– When you need to change a diaper on the plane, try to take just the necessities to the bathroom (changing pad, wipes, fresh diaper and trash bag) because it’s SO TIGHT in there and there really isn’t room for a big diaper bag, nor is there any place you’d want to put that down.  Because gross.

– It’s not a bad idea to become a master at changing your baby while holding her.  That came in handy more than once.

– 55 minutes is probably not enough time to make a connection in Dulles, especially if you are carrying around all of the items mentioned above.

– Hope for the best, plan for the worst.  And whenever possible, drink a margarita.  🙂

 

 

Catching up

We are already more than halfway through our visit home and like always, it amazes me how quickly it passes!  More than a month ago, we were making our way to Ohio.  We had a really smooth day of travel and received so many compliments on Abby.  She was so quiet, smiled at everyone, and made traveling a breeze – except for one minor hiccup.  We had about 2 hours left on our Frankfurt to D.C. flight, and I picked her up to carry her to the bathroom.  She chose that moment to spit up – an unreasonable amount – directly down my cowl-neck sweater dress.  I stood there frozen as I felt it run down my neck, chest, and pool in my belly button.  Abby and JR were not bothered in the least but I was horrified and stood in the aisle in shock for quite awhile.  Cleaning myself up in the tiny airplane bathroom was no small feat.

abby plane 1 abby plane 2

We’ve been really lucky so far, but I’m already nervous about our return travel because since we’ve been home, Abby is increasingly on the move. She half scoots, half crawls all over the place.  It’s going to be much more difficult to contain her now that she’s on the go!

This trip has been all about spending time with both of our families.   We were happy to have a nice Thanksgiving in Dayton, and we’ve been going nonstop since then.  JR had to be in DC for two weeks for training, so Abby and I kept ourselves busy visiting with family and friends and shopping.  A lot of shopping.  Kohls and Target are addicting!

A few months ago I applied for a job – basically it’s another program the State Department is trying out to employ more spouses overseas.   There are hard-to-fill consular jobs at some of the embassies and they want to try to fill those spots by qualified spouses.  You can learn more about the program here.  Honestly, it’s a bit confusing and it feels like a lot of hoops to jump through when we have no idea if we’ll end up at a post with a position available. At the same time, I don’t want to miss an opportunity for work, and from what I’ve read about consular jobs, I think I might really enjoy it.

The first step was to take an online exam with four different parts.  It wasn’t easy and many of the questions were awkwardly worded, so I didn’t have much confidence, but I did pass.  Next I was asked to participate in an oral assessment/interview in D.C.  Travel to DC is not provided, so we wanted to schedule my interview during a time we would already be in the States.  Since JR was going to be there, I decided to make a long weekend out of it and had my interview on a Friday morning and then planned to spend the weekend with him in D.C. while Abby had quality time with my family in Ohio.

I had to be at the interview at 6:50am on Friday – seriously?!  I almost showed up like this but JR  talked me out of it.

bedhead

I was with two other people and first we did a 45 minute case management exercise where we reviewed several hypothetical office issues and drafted a recommendation.  After that, I had to wait for about 20-30 minutes before they called me back for my actual interview.  It was nerve-wracking because the two women interviewing me read from a script and explained that they would not be providing any feedback, or really engaging with me in any way outside from asking questions on the script.  I’m used to a slightly more relaxed setting and some back and forth, and that was not happening here.  They just looked at me stone-faced and offered no reaction to my responses.  I waited another 30 minutes after I was finished until I was called back and told that I passed.  Hooray!  Except I’m really not sure what happens next.  From what I gather any employment will all depend on where we end up (we really have no idea right now, which is kind of disappointing because we had hoped to have our assignment already  – possibly another blog post by itself) and what type of jobs are available at post.   So, it has the potential to be a good thing but we won’t know for a while.

The rest of the weekend in D.C. was really wonderful.  Our dear friend Jessica was in town, and she recommended that we have dinner with her at Founding Farmers Friday evening.   We aren’t food critics at all but it was delicious.  They had bacon lollipops.  Genius.  I was also excited to catch up with my friend Sam over a boozy brunch that Saturday.

champs

The best part about the weekend was just having down time with JR, being able to eat dinner without rushing, and sleeping in!   It was great, but I was also happy to get back to Abby.  Now we are full speed ahead to Christmas, and looking forward to presents, baking cookies, and maybe even Abby’s first Santa visit!

Romance in Paralia?

No.  The answer is no.  But our hotel room really was intended for L-O-V-E.  Check out this bedspread in our suite!

photo 1 (8)

We decided to visit Paralia, Greece for the 4th of July weekend.  Paralia is pretty much the closest decent beach for us, about a 4 1/2 hour drive going through two borders, Macedonia and Greece.  That drive can be a bit longer if you make 3 2 wrong turns.  (I’m directionally challenged and we’re buying a GPS with a European chip).  Luckily for us, Abigail continues to be an excellent traveler.   We made a pit stop to feed and change her, and then continued on our way.  And to my absolute delight, the gas station in Macedonia sold Snicker’s Ice Cream bars!

The weather was beautiful and as always, we love the beach.  It was extremely crowded but still nice to get away!  This was the view from our hotel balcony.

photo 2 (2) photo 3 (10)

Oh, and there was a man selling donuts on the beach.  Let me repeat that for you.  This fellow (and many more just like him) walked around the beach selling fresh baked, big-as-your-face donuts for 1.50 euro.  Aces!

photo 3 (8) photo 2 (7)

On the recommendation of the hotel staff, we went to a restaurant a few blocks away called Poseidon.   We had a nice family dinner on the beach.  If you can’t tell, Abigail is hidden away in the carrier and she let us have a peaceful meal, for which we are very grateful.

photo 2 (1) photo 3 (9)

This was our first beach experience as a family and it was quite different than what JR and I are used to.  Usually JR and I are out all day enjoying the sun, water and drinks with a possible break in the afternoon for a short nap before dinner.   Like everything else now, Abigail dictates our schedule and we only stayed out a few hours during the day and underneath the umbrella for most of it.  Even though it was a very different experience, we loved sharing the beach with her for the first time.  JR took her to get her feet wet in the Aegean but got a little excited and put her in up to her chest.  She didn’t enjoy it as much as JR did, so the experience only lasted about 20 seconds.   We’ll do better next time.

And a few more cute pics of Abby at the beach.

photo 3 (7) photo 4 (6) photo 5 (3)

By the time we got home on Sunday, she was tuckered out.  But she can’t wait to visit Greece again!

photo 4 (8)

The long trip home: Part 2

So where were we…

We woke up Saturday morning still tired and wondering what the day would bring.  JR went to the airport to see what we needed to do regarding our bags, and to collect our vouchers.  We hoped we’d be able to stay in the hotel again that night since our flight wasn’t until 11 pm.  It took him over two hours, and during that time he learned that although he and Abby had tickets that night, I didn’t,  that our bags were most likely in DC or Frankfurt, and United would not give us a voucher for the hotel that day.   However, they were generous enough to give us each another $7 food voucher!  Instead of checking out at 11 am and spending the day in the airport we decided to go ahead and book the hotel room for another day anyway, and just pay for it ourselves.

Luckily for us, there was a Chili’s restaurant just a two minute walk from our hotel.  We love Chili’s (we have very sophisticated palettes). After we ate, JR took the baby back to eat while I hopped in a taxi and asked to go to the nearest grocery store so I could buy more diapers.  The driver took me to Whole Foods, and I honestly wasn’t sure if they sold diapers there, but turns out they do!   When I arrived back at the hotel we all took a long nap before making our way to the airport later that night.

We went straight to baggage claim to try and determine the exact location of our luggage.   In an interesting twist, they forwarded all 5 bags to Munich because they mistakenly believed we had booked the Munich flight – even though we never did.  We went upstairs to wait in line at the Turkish counter since it opened at 7:30 pm, feeling antsy about getting seats together and hoping we might still get the bassinet row (which we had reserved for our original Frankfurt flight).  They look like this:

bassinets

We wanted Abby to have a spot to stretch out during the long flight. Unfortunately, those rows were booked but they were able to put us all together, and that was the most important part.  Our flight to Istanbul was pretty uneventful. Abby slept most of it and hardly ever cried. She didn’t seem stressed at all by our troubles up to that point.

abby plane 1 abby plane 2 abby plane 3

Abby really likes to stretch.

We landed in Istanbul on time (shocker!) and walked down the steps to collect our stroller on the tarmac, which we had checked at the gate JUST before boarding the plane in DC, alongside several other strollers. We see all of these families putting their strollers together and strapping their kids in, but our stroller is no where to be found. I asked one of the employees if they were still unloading, and tried to explain that our stroller should be with this pile, but he didn’t really understand English.  A nice lady attempted to translate for us and she gathered that our stroller was either in DC or lost, because it wasn’t on the plane.  The employee kept on saying that if we gate-checked our stroller then it would be here.  We obviously agreed with him, but that didn’t answer the question of where did it go?  How in the world did they lose a large GATE CHECKED ITEM?!  At this point I was like “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO MEEEEE”?

it isn't fair

JR made his way to a Turkish counter and asked about the stroller. They told him it could be in Pristina or DC, and we could wait and see when we got there, or he could exit through customs, find their Lost and Found, file a report, then come back through security and make the next flight. I told him I thought that was ridiculous and we’d deal with it at home, surely something would go our way and the stroller would be waiting for us in Pristina. The only highlight of this stop was running into our friends Shawn and Amy, returning from a weekend trip to Istanbul and on the same short flight to Pristina. It was nice to see some friendly faces and introduce them to Abby!

Although we were scheduled to land in Pristina at 7:45pm, of course we were almost an hour late. The good news was that ALL of our checked bags from our original flight were there waiting for us! The bad news was that our stroller was not. They told us to file a claim with Turkish when we got home. Sigh. Our friends were nice enough to wait for us and help us load up our bags in the van, and we were FINALLY headed home. Hooray!

You know that feeling when you think nothing else could possibly go wrong? And then you realize you were so, so very wrong. In early April we sent two shipments – a layette with baby items like a Pack n Play, swing, etc., and a consumables shipment with food, diapers and wipes. The guys who handled that packout said that the crib, mattress, and rug should go in my consumables shipment to help with packaging and it allowed me more weight/space in my layette shipment (which has a limit of 250lbs – that adds up really quickly). We were under the impression BOTH shipments would be waiting in our apartment for us. Why would we assume this?  Because they said that our shipments had arrived and were waiting for us in our apartment.  Not so fast. Only the layette was there. Okay fine, at least we have her pack n play and swing, we can survive on that for a while.

Then I realize our internet wasn’t working. Since we were away for so long, it appeared our contract with the internet company had expired. And then there was a small flood in our bathroom so there was standing water all over. So yeah, I had a major minor meltdown.  Not my finest moment but I had definitely reached my limit.

So that was Sunday and now it’s Friday. Maintenance fixed the leak first thing Monday which was great, although we then realized we had an ant problem as a result, but we’re getting that resolved too. JR had our internet fixed right away on Monday, and we’ve been in contact with the shipping company about the rest of our things.  Consumables are currently in Antwerp, Belgium and should be delivered in about 2 weeks.  And best of all, after many calls and emails with Turkish Airlines, we received our stroller yesterday!

Things could have turned out much worse and we’re thankful that we received all our lost luggage, and that we all made it here safely and together.  But – I’m going to need a lot of booze before I make a trek like that again.

will and grace

drink on plane

 

 

The long trip home

I considered a few different titles for this post, and almost named it “The time United tried to ruin my life.”  But that seemed a tad dramatic.

On Friday afternoon my mom dropped us off at the Cleveland airport.  We took a few photos of our huge pile of luggage since we so proud of our packing skills and then we were off (or so we thought).

bags

We grabbed a bite to eat in the terminal before reaching our gate and because we were seated at a bar top up against a wall, I thought it was a good opportunity to let Abby stretch her legs.  And then of course I took a picture because she is kind of passed out at a bar. For a hot minute I wanted to post on Facebook that Abby was passed out at the bar.  Mom of the year right here.

at the bar

Since we had a tight connection in DC (only 55 minutes!), JR asked the gate agent if they could have a United employee meet us in DC to help us make it to the next flight.  We had 3 carry on bags, 2 diaper bags, the stroller, car seat, base, and the oh-so-critical Boppy, which made it difficult to move quickly.   We also inquired about preboarding – we thought it would make more sense for us and for other passengers so we weren’t in their way as we tried to collapse and bag up our stroller right before getting on the plane, and while we installed our car seat and base in Abby’s seat on the plane.  Getting the car seat in a car is hard enough, but we knew with the tight space on a plane it was going to be tricky.  Apparently, United (and most other US carriers) no longer offer preboarding for families with small children.  Who knew?

The plane had some kind of issue so we were delayed leaving, and I kept glancing at my watch knowing we were losing valuable time to make our connection.  Abby was wide awake and staring out the window for most of the flight from Cleveland to DC.

abby first plane

By the time we landed and made our way off the plane, it was 9:30pm.  According to our tickets, boarding for our next flight began at 9:15 pm and closed at 9:45pm.  I quickly asked the first few United employees that I saw if there was a luggage cart waiting for us, or even one of those oversized golf carts to drive us to Terminal C, which was a very long walk and a tram ride away. I showed them the printed slip from the gate agent in Cleveland that allegedly made the request prior to our arrival.  Everyone I approached looked at me like they didn’t understand what I was talking about, and then told me “we don’t have carts here.  We don’t do that here.”  Oh.  Okay then.

JR waited for our gate checked items and we started hauling through the airport as fast as we could.  We didn’t even stop to put the stroller together, because we were in such a rush.  But it made it that much harder to move quickly because we were carrying so much stuff.  Car seat + base + baby = 26lbs in one hand.  We were still in Terminal A at 9:45pm, and as we passed a United service desk with no line, we figured we may as well make  a quick stop and ask about our options since we clearly weren’t making our flight.  The man we spoke to was unable to comprehend what we were asking (seriously, do they teach the blank stare to all employees? Is it in the handbook?!)

ice cube blank stare

When we explained a second time he looked at our tickets, at the clock, at ALL OF OUR CRAP, and told us we’d surely make our flight since it was a “2 minute walk.”  Okay then.

We rushed.  We sweated.  We cursed (at least I did.)  We walked up to our gate about ten minutes past 10pm, and even though we knew the answer we still asked if we could board our flight.  Nope.  So we took our pile ‘o stuff and walked a few more gates down to a customer service area and got in line for rebooking.  The guy there told us we may as well take a seat because it would probably take 30 minutes or longer.  And so we sat.   When he finally came over to us, he informed us that the earliest we could get out would be Sunday at 6pm on a Lufthansa flight.  No guarantees we’d be seated together (all 3 tickets were purchased separately by JR’s work, so although it’s highly unlikely it would actually happen, technically Abby could have been seated by herself) and we would most likely not have the bassinet seat we’d been banking on for the long flight.   He said United would cover our hotel and offer meal vouchers for the time we were stuck, but due to their policy, he could only offer us one night worth of vouchers.  In the morning, we would need to check out of our hotel and return to Dulles to collect vouchers for the second night, because they also couldn’t guarantee the same room or even same hotel for us.

I wish you could have seen our faces.  But there wasn’t much we could do.  We were very worried that our luggage made the connecting flight but he assured us that if we didn’t make the flight, then our bags wouldn’t be put on the plans.   He then asked if we wanted our checked baggage with us, or sent ahead to our destination.  Since we were looking at an extended delay we asked to pick up all of our bags.   After he put in that request, he gave us instructions on where to claim the bags, where we might find an open place to eat (it was probably 11:15ish at that point) and how to get to the hotel shuttle.  We made our way to baggage claim pretty slowly, because he said it would probably be an hour and a half before our bags were delivered.   The deli he referenced had some pre-made cold sandwiches for $7.99 each.  Note, our United food vouchers were for $7 per person.  So I’m assuming they meant they would cover a few vending machine purchases, because you can’ t really have a meal for $7. JR was not pleased and we are still confused as to why they’re called “meal” vouchers.

We purchased what we wanted, minus the $7 voucher from the cafe and settled in for awhile at baggage claim.  JR paid for two luggage carts so we could transport our 5 checked bags to the shuttle, and we waited.   It seemed like there were a lot of people around us having problems and the employees were coming by occasionally to provide information, but never to us.  After an hour or so, I decided to wait in the line to talk to one of the United employees working in the baggage area.  Very politely and apologetically, she said our bags were on their way to Frankfurt.  I’ll never understand how they made the flight and we didn’t, but I digress.  I asked her to check again, because just an hour earlier the man upstairs said he ordered our bags for us, and they’d be sent down here.  No amount of double checking changed the answer, the bags weren’t coming.  She did check to see if any new flight options had opened up, and due to a cancellation she offered us a chance to leave DC on Saturday at 5pm, fly to Munich, and then to Pristina.  The catch was an 8+ hour layover in Munich.  JR and I talked it over and thought that would be pretty miserable with the baby coming off an overseas flight.  I felt confident if I could get on the phone with someone I could find us a better route, so we told her no thanks and made our way to the hotel shuttle.  We left our empty luggage carts sitting there.

The wait for the shuttle was probably only 20 minutes or so, but we were so burnt out at that point.  Abby had – amazingly – been asleep since we got off the plane.  But she was finally starting to fuss, poor girl was hungry and needed changed.  Of course we are outside and I don’t want to do anything to cause us to miss this shuttle and get to our hotel even later.  I held her while JR changed her.  Thank goodness it was only a wet diaper.  We made it to the hotel around 1:30 am, got our room, fed the baby, and after a long phone call with United, I had us booked to leave Saturday at 11 pm.  It had been such a long day and we all crashed for the night around 3 am.

So that was our first day of travel.  If you are still reading this, I’m impressed.  To be continued…

SPOILER ALERT – we eventually made it to Pristina safe and sound, but cranky.